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chelation therapy

Alternative Names 
chelation treatment

Chelation therapy involves using a substance, called a chelator, to bind toxins and remove them from the body. This procedure is usually done for heavy metal poisoning. Once the chelator binds the toxin, it can then be excreted out of the body, usually into the urine.

Who is a candidate for the procedure? 
This procedure is usually advised when there are high levels of certain toxins inside the body. Toxins that may be treated with this procedure include:
  • arsenic
  • lead
  • iron. Excess iron may build up in the body if a person has many blood transfusions, or has a hereditary condition such as haemachromatosis or haemosiderosis.
  • mercury
  • cadmium
  • copper, which may build up in the inherited condition called Wilson disease
  • gold
Before chelation therapy is advised, the doctor will ask about the person's medical and family history. A physical examination will also be done. Different tests may be done to check health, including: Other tests may also be used in certain settings.

There are studies underway to examine the effects of this therapy on arteriosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, and other conditions.

How is the procedure performed? 
There are several chelators in use, including EDTA, penicillamine, and succimer. These are given through an intravenous line (IV) or as a pill. An IV is a thin tube inserted through the skin and into a vein, usually in the arm or hand.

The procedure usually takes place in a clinic or the hospital setting if an IV infusion is needed. In some cases, a person may need to be in the hospital, such as in cases of severe lead poisoning. A person can usually choose to sit or lay down. Next, an IV is started in a vein in the arm or hand. The chelator, along with fluids, is slowly infused into the body. While the IV is running, a person can relax, sleep, or do other quiet activities. Most sessions last a few hours, though some may be shorter or longer. The session is usually painless. Those who take a pill form can take the pill at home just like any other medication.

The total number of treatments given depends on the person's health and needs. For instance, those with a one-time poisoning may only need a few treatments. Those with Wilson disease often need treatment for life.

What happens right after the procedure? 
Blood tests are usually done during and after therapy. These tests can monitor the level of the toxin in the body and help check for side effects.

What happens later at home? 
No home care is usually needed. If unusual symptoms occur after treatment, such as dizziness, vomiting, or chest pain, the doctor should be contacted.

What are the potential complications after the procedure? 
Side effects depend on the agent used. EDTA can cause kidney damage, fever, and fatigue. Penicillamine can cause anaemia and a condition called systemic lupus erythematosus. Succimer can cause stomach upset, skin rash, and liver damage. Other agents may also be used, each with its own side effects. The doctor will discuss side effects before the procedure.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 18/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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